We leave Santa Rosalia early and spend the day climbing up, down and around a meandering Highway 1. The road sneaks inland then naturally comes back to the shore to catch glimpses of the ever-beautiful Sea of Cortez. Eventually we make our way toward another oasis on our route, the small town of Mulege.
A huge archway welcomes us and leads us down remarkably clean city streets to a quaint and quiet downtown. Criss-crossing our way through town on one way streets we discover where all the mercados and restaurants are located and make our way down a dirt road that runs parallel to the Santa Rosalia River. After checking out the various hotels we decide on the newer, cleaner and cheaper room at the Hotel Mulege, the first hotel we looked at, situated near the entrance to town. We’re planning on camping for the next few days and we’re both suffering slight knee aches so we’re looking forward to a hot shower and a real bed. Even though we just want to crawl in to bed after our showers we take an evening walk through town, stop in to check out the offerings at a couple of the mercados and pick up an easy dinner at a restaurant before we check in for the night.
The next couple of days consists of many steep but short inclines and declines, the kind of which you fall into the descent then find yourself just as quickly climbing again. This kind of riding is exhausting to me and I dislike it even more when combined with a narrow highway without a shoulder that twists and turns enough that I also have to be constantly worried about traffic not anticipating our presence. That being said, we seem to have lucked out and have missed the heavy tourist season (October through February) and there is surprisingly little traffic on Highway 1 at this time of year.
Another added benefit to cycling just outside the heavy tourist season is that we’ll get to experience a quiet and peaceful Bahía Concepción over the next couple of days. Conception Bay runs down the eastern side of Baja California Sur between Mulege and Loreto and it’s known as one of the most beautiful areas of Baja, offering dozens of breath-taking beaches. We decide to cycle a couple of really short days in order to enjoy the Bay, which actually ends up being a great choice considering temperatures have been soaring lately and we’re having a little trouble acclimating to the heat. Not long into our day we spot the Bay and our first campsite from a peak in the road.
Playa Santispec is the largest beach on the Bay and it sports palapas, a restaurant, a pit toilet and a view to die for. As we ride down the gravel path leading toward the beach we see we have a wide range of palapa choices, with only a few RV campers parked near the restaurant on the northern part of the shore. We choose a palapa that also has a couple of walls, for protection from the winds and the sun, quickly change in to our bathing suits and make a run for the waves. The water is cool, clear and perfect. We frolic around like kids experiencing our first day on summer break, we wander up and down the beach taking photographs and we sit under the palapa just taking in the scene before us. It’s truly spectacular.
The next day we reluctantly leave our paradise on the beach and ride a mere 13 miles down the road to another beach. It’s a rough life sometimes! 🙂 Along the way we see several absolutely gorgeous coves where people are camping, swimming, fishing and kayaking that would be worth visiting but we have limited supply of water and food so we decide to limit our stay along the Bay to two nights.
Our campsite at Buenaventura is actually a sand beach in front of a restaurant owned by a couple that live next door. We spend the lunch hour and afternoon inside of the restaurant, sipping on cold grapefruit drinks, enjoying a light lunch and checking our email (they, surprisingly, have internet!). Later, when the owners close the restaurant for siesta we sit outside, Kai chatting with his parents on Skype while I enjoy a quick swim. Two quirky and sweet dogs keep us company the entire evening and one of us has to distract them with games on the beach while the other sets up the tent and empties needed supplies from panniers. We sleep well that night, the sounds of waves hitting the shore just feet from our tent.
Sunrise signals our natural alarms and although we have grand plans to get an early start to avoid the heat, by the time we pack up the tent and our panniers, wash morning dishes and stretch, it’s already 8:30. Climbing our way out of the southern section of the Bay we hear the bleating of goats in the valley below us and watch them and their herder making their way over the rocks toward the shady side of the hills. As we struggle up to the peak of the pass we come upon a couple of cows walking down the highway toward us. As soon as they see us they freeze, confused. Their heads turn and eyes follow us as we slowly pedal past.
We make our way inland and away from the water. The last time we saw a mercado or supply store was in Mulege and we know this strip of the Highway is lacking in places for us to stock up on water and food so we’re nervous when we pass a road that intersects with Highway 1, where we were told by locals we would find a small store that would be able to refill our water bottles. We cycle on, determined to put as many miles under us as possible at this point, knowing that we’ll most likely wild camp tonight and have another day of cycling before we hit the town of Loreto. Needless to say, we’re relieved to see a small family owned restaurant as we round up and over a hill. We pull up alongside their home and take rest under the shaded seating area, fill our water bottles and buy several packages of cookies they have displayed behind the counter.
As soon as we’re back on the road we feel the heat of the mid-day upon us. The sun is relentless and there is rarely a shady spot in this part of the desert to stop and take shelter. We slowly make our way forward and as we swoop gently down into a valley a wave of heat hits us like a Mac truck. Although the winds are furious, hitting us from the west, they provide no relief. They simply seem to push the heat along, only making us work harder to stay upright and from swaying out in to the middle of the road. Wind tunnels form to the west of us, pulling up the sand to create mini-tornadoes. We watch them form and percolate, growing larger, and we are part fascinated, part concerned, hoping they won’t make their way toward us. We’re dripping in sweat and our faces are red, neither of us feeling we can travel under the heat much longer. We need to find some shade, quickly, and rest for a couple of hours.
A couple of miles down the road and we still haven’t spotted anything for us to cower under other than a few sparse thorn trees. Thorns and bicycles don’t really mingle well so we pass them by but another 1/2 mile down the road and we realize that’s all we can see for miles so we drop off the pavement into the sand ditch alongside the road and take cover under the largest thorn tree we can find. The area around the trees are covered in goat and cow manure but we don’t care much at this point – we are both suffering from heat exhaustion and we need to just be still and drink liquids. It’s amazing how quickly the mix of heat, sun and exertion can do a number on your body.
After a couple of hours, although lacking energy, we feel a little better and we need to cycle on to find a place to wild camp for the night. Thankfully we only have to cycle 5-6 miles down the road before we found an ideal spot. We both sit in the shade of an elephant tree till the sun starts to set. We garner enough energy to make a quick dinner and set up the tent and after washing dishes we fall into a utterly exhausted sleep.
The next morning we appreciate the spectacular views of the mountains and take a short stroll through the cactus surrounding our campsite before hitting the pavement again. A short 22 miles later we find ourselves riding through the streets of Loreto, a fairly large sized town (population ~15,000), boasting a beautiful view of the Gulf of California and an international airport. We do our normal round the town tour, scoping out local restaurants, mercados, aqua purification centers and places to stay. After checking out a handful of interesting hotels and rooms for rent we decide on a place with a quiet courtyard, reliable wi-fi and a kitchenette. We’re expecting to stay for awhile, although we’re not sure yet for how long, and we quickly determine that the cost of a kitchenette will be far less expensive than eating out all the time.
The Hotel Santa Fe is extremely luxurious compared to the places we’ve stayed in the past. The kitchenette provides a sink, double burner stove, refrigerator and microwave, as well as a really nice set of dishes, toaster, blender and pots and pans. The interior is well-lit by a double sliding glass door that look out onto a naturally landscaped courtyard, the bed linens are clean and comfortable (and fit the bed!) and we have tons of closet space to stash all our panniers away in. Just on the other side of the courtyard a small pool and jacuzzi lay snuggled amongst palm trees. A restaurant, a mercado and a laundry mat share the retail space alongside the hotel entrance and another less expensive mercado is just around the corner. The hotel is only two years old so everything is in good repair. The staff is extremely nice, giving us a huge discounted rate on the room as soon as they see we are travelling by bicycle, which helps us stay (barely) under budget.
There are flaws. We rarely experience a *hot* shower but we can deal with it – most times we don’t need hot showers and when we do feel the need for really hot water we simply heat up water on the stove or in the microwave and Ortlieb it or clean sponge-bath style. And each room has a thin single door separating us from the next room so when we have neighbors (which is not often) we can hear everything, including their snoring at night!
That being said, neither flaw prevented us from getting a lot of work done. We spend our days getting up to date on the situation in mainland Mexico and planning our route from Mazatlan, making lots of calls to the U.S. to take care of business with our apartment building back in Vermont, and securing a couple of very exciting new sponsor donations (we’ll share more about them soon!).
Beyond all of the work, we actually decided to take a couple of weeks off from everything – to stop moving forward and to just think about and talk about how we were feeling about our lives at this point, to assess if we’re still living the way we feel is best in relation to our values. We do believe we’re still on the right path but we’re making some tweaks to the way we’re traveling to allow for more than just bicycling, so we’ll share more about that in our next post. 🙂
Our route from Santa Rosalia to Loreto